How do you interpret what the speaker's friend Denise says to her?  The Poem reads:  Dear Sirs:Of course I'll come.  I've packed my galoshesand three packets of tomato seeds.  Denise calls...

How do you interpret what the speaker's friend Denise says to her?  The Poem reads: 

Dear Sirs:
Of course I'll come.  
I've packed my galoshes
and three packets of tomato seeds.  Denise calls them love apples.  My father says where we're going
they won't grow.
I am a fourteen-year old girl with bad spelling
and a messy room.  If it helps any, I will tell you
I have always felt funny using chopsticks
and my favorite food is hot dogs.
My best friend is a white girl named Denise--
we look at boys together.  She sat in front of me
all through grade school because of our names:
O'Connor, Ozawa.  I know the back of Denise's head very well.
I tell her she's going bald.  She tells me I copy on sets.
We're best friends.
I saw Denise today in Geography class.
She was sitting on the other side of the room.
"You're trying to start a war,"  She said, "giving secrets
away to the Enemy,  Why can't you keep your big mouth shut?"
I didn't know what to say.
I gave her a packet of tomato seeds
and asked her to plant them for me, told her
when the first tomato ripened
she'd miss me.

Asked on by frank42--

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The title of this poem is key to its understanding:

"In response to Executive Order 9066" by Dwight Okita. [There is a certain irony in the poet's first name being that of General Eisenhower]

Executive Order 9066 is a Presidential Order signed by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. This order, spurred by both irrational fear due to outbreak of war and the Niihau Incident, provided the Secretary of War authority to designate particular areas as military zones. This Niihau Incident involved a small Hawaiian island on which one of the planes involved in the attack of Pearl Harbor landed. (The Japanese believed this island to be uninhabited and informed their pilots to land there where they would later be picked up by submarine.)

When the native Hawaiians witnessed the pilot's landing, they tried to capture him, but the pilot, Nishikaichi, received assistance in his resistance from three locals of Japanese descent, who provided weapons and along with him took several hostages. Nishikaichi was later killed by Hawaiians, and one of the abettors, Yoshio Harada, committed suicide. This act of abetting the Japanese pilot led to the rash assumption that all Japanese in America might commit similar acts and, at least, be sympathetic to Japan despite the fact that over two-thirds of the people of Japenese descent were American citizens and many had lived in the U.S. between 20-40 years. In fact, the first generation, the nisel, considered themselves loyal to the United States; moreover, there are no records of any Japanese American or Japanese national who were residents of the United States ever having been found guilty of espionage or sabotage.

_____________________________________________________________

The speaker of this poem is of Japanese descent-- 

I have always felt funny using chopsticks
and my favorite food is hot dogs--

a nisei, or first generation Japanese-American. She has made friends with Denise, who is a white American. Before the Executive Order and the involvement of the United States in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Denise was her friend. But, after this date and with the issue of the executive order, Denise wants nothing to do with the speaker of the poem because she is now perceived as an enemy to the U.S. When she says, 

"You're trying to start a war, giving secrets
away to the Enemy"

Denise voices the thoughts of her parents, most likely, who have told her that she can no longer associate with the Japanese girl. Like many other Americans, the war hysteria has caused them to perceive Japanese-Americans as "the Enemy," potential spies and conspirators like those three men involved in the Niihau Incident.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,991 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question